When I finally had my South Africa visa approved, I was very excited to go on the trip. I’ve read on how to prepare and how to write an itinerary. One of the main attractions I want to explore is the Kruger National Park.
I’ve never been to Africa, my childhood memory from it is many scenes of Lion King while many films attract me to watch about wild animals in this region. Hence, I made sure I will be going to Kruger National Park.
However, regardless of some readings I’ve made, I did forget to look up many things. I decided to pull this article of things to know before visiting Kruger National Park together to help you be prepared for this fantastic trip.
WHAT ARE THE THINGS TO KNOW BEFORE VISITING KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
I will try my best to cover as much as possible to inform you of the things you should know about this trip.
When is the Best Time to Visit Kruger National Park
You can visit Kruger National Park at almost any time of the year. The temperature in Kruger National Park is a subtropical climate which brings a pleasant 25 degrees Celsius temperature (77F) on average, but the sun can be scorching during the day while it can be chilly at night.
The best time to go to see animals would be during the dry winter, from June until September, due to fewer and shorter trees and plants, it is easier to spot the animals.
While the summer season is often filled with rain which is between October and April. However, this time of the year has its own charm. The rain fills up the water holes, the Park is greener, the birds are coming back after the winter, and some of the animals have just gave birth.
Self-drive vs Guided Tours
Whether you want to drive or not, you will be able to see and enjoy Kruger Park. Many tourists opt for self-drive but joining a tour is also possible without any trouble, especially if you are staying outside the Park.
If you haven’t decided which one is the best way to do it, you can read the pros and cons below.
I don’t drive and don’t have a license, but I want to explore Kruger National Park in a car. Luckily for me, my travel companions are willing to rent a car and drive around.
If you arrive in Johannesburg like me, you can rent a car from the airport or in the city and bring it to the Park. You can also rent from the town called Nelspruit (the closest big town to the Park) or from Kruger Mpumalanga International Airport.
Pros of self-drive are the opportunity to manage your own time, go on your own phase, and cover the areas you are interested in.
For example, you only want to see the Big Five (Elephants, Leopard, Lion, Water Buffalo, Rhinoceros). If that’s the case, you don’t want to spend time seeing Giraffes, Zebra, etc to save some time, especially if you have limited time only.
Cons of self-drive are you will have to know how to spot or where to look for the animals. For example, the big cats like to hide under a tree or on the branches. They are sensitive to noise; hence, they are often far away from the main road.
I’ve seen 4 out of the big 5, we saw a Leopard but only through binoculars and only its silhouette. After that, we weren’t lucky enough to spot another one.
On self-drive, you will often see yourself doing “monkey see, monkey do”. This means, you must stop when you see other cars looking at something and copy them figuring out what is there to see.
Guided tours are getting on a trip with other people for the day. You will get on a tour truck and have a professional driver drive around the Park and spot the animals for you and maybe tells you the story and facts about the animals and about the Park.
Whether you stay inside the Park or outside, your hotel or rest camp will have a guided tour that you can join.
The pros of guided tours are your chances to see animals are higher in a shorter period of time than self-drive. You can easily focus on taking beautiful photos and enjoy the scenery.
Cons of guided tours are that your itinerary is already outlined, you can’t stop whenever you want or go on a different route. Another downside is probably won’t be able to move as much inside the car or truck to get a better view of the animals.
How Long to Stay in Kruger National Park
Personally, I recommend between 3-5 days. I’ve met a few people who would go for two weeks or more. I can imagine that professional photographers or those jobs revolves around this field can spend as much time as they want to.
In total, I stayed inside the Park for 5 days and 4 nights. I think it was perfect, we cover almost half of the Park; the southern and the middle area. In 5 days we’ve seen over 50 animals and even joined a bush hike and night safari tour through the camps we stayed at.
On the fifth day, it felt like it was the right time to leave. We didn’t feel like we should stay another day or wished we have another day.
When I was planning my trip and reading about things to know before visiting Kruger National Park, one of the things I had a hard time understanding is how the accommodation works.
To me, it sounded like the Park might be a dangerous place to stay overnight since the animals are roaming free around the Park. Eventually, I understand that there are rest camps where visitors can rest and spend the night safely.
Accommodations inside Kruger National Park
There are many rest camps inside the Park they are all managed by the Kruger National Park management. Most of them are exceptionally equipped. I stayed in two camps; one is called Skukuza, which I liked a lot.
The rooms are very comfortable, there is an AC, a kitchen area, cooking equipment, a fridge, a clean bathroom, hot water, and a barbecue area. Plus a common area to cook (hot plate), a swimming pool, restaurants, a souvenir shop, and a grocery shop with everything you need.
Another camp I stayed at is called Satara, which seems a little rundown, old, and needs renovation. The kitchen doesn’t have cooking equipment, the AC doesn’t really work, and the fridge wasn’t working very well either. There was a swimming pool, restaurants, a good grocery shop, and a souvenir shop.
There are at least ten other rest camps, but I’m not sure about their state.
Staying inside the park overnight is definitely a fun experience, but they are not the cheapest. If you ask me, I would definitely recommend you to try it for a night or two if you are on the budget.
Accommodations outside Kruger National Park
There are many accommodations just a few kilometres outside the Park. They are often cheaper, and you can book guided tours from there, or they can help you rent a car for you to drive yourself.
Driving inside the Park
If you decided to drive inside the Kruger National Park, there are many rules that you need to follow not just for your safety but for other tourists, the Park’s staff, and of course the animals living here. This is one of the most important things to know before visiting Kruger Park.
Signal/Reception inside the Park
At the camping sites and near the entrance gate, the mobile reception is pretty decent. At the campsite, we were able to catch and stream a live game on my laptop. However, the further you are in the park, there weaker the signal becomes.
It’s vital to bring a quality printed map (you can buy this at the souvenir shop) in case you get lost and without access to GPS.
Speed limit inside the Park
Once you enter the Park or even 5 kilometres away, the speed limit is 50 KPH (31 MPH) on the paved road and 40 KPH (28 MPH) on the gravel road. Not all roads are accessible, when you see a “no entry sign”, please don’t try to break the law.
The Park gates open and closes at specific times. You can enter and have to be out of the gates exactly these times if you are staying outside the Park:
- November to February: 05.30 – 18.30
- March to April, August to September: 06.00 – 18.00
- May to July: 06.00 – 17.30
If you are staying in the camps inside the Park, the camp gates open and closes at
- November to January: 04.30 – 18.00
- February to March, October: 05.30 – 18.00
- April to September: 06.00-18.00
There are almost no lights on the road once the sun is down, driving is very dangerous at these times.
IMPORTANT: Be out of the Park or be inside your rest camps at the right time. Remember, there is barely any cell signal inside the Park, you won’t be able or will have a tough time contacting the staff to pick you up. Not following the rules can cause you a ban in the Park or in South Africa.
There are gas stations inside the rest camps. If you are doing a day tour and are staying outside the rest camp, make sure to pick up a map to see how to get to the rest camps for a gas refill. You can also download an online map of the entire Kruger National Park on your phone.
Just like in the UK, Australia, Malaysia, Singapore and some former British colonies, driving in South Africa is on the left. This also means that the setup on the car is most likely on the other side compared to what you are used to.
The most important thing to remember is to take a moment and get yourself familiarised with the car’s interior, not to over speed, and be careful and mindful when making a turn.
Mind the animals
The animals especially Impalas and Kudus can be very sneaky when crossing the road and are often on the side of the road, it is vital to keep your eyes open and drive not over the speed limit.
When you see Elephants, Giraffes, Rhinoceros, and big cats crossing the road or lying on the pavement, please don’t get too close to them, turn off your engine, and wait until the path is clear before driving.
There is one convenience store in every rest camp. These stores are highly equipped. From barbecue materials, cooking ingredients, snacks, dining utensils, desserts, to clothing, bug sprays, and souvenirs – they all have them.
So, don’t worry if you didn’t pack enough food or don’t have the right clothing for the trip.
Every rest camp also has at least one restaurant inside while many viewing points have an eating area to enjoy your lunch or breakfast. These viewing points are marked as “picnic areas” on the map. There should be staff who can rent you out grilling equipment.
IMPORTANT: There are many monkeys and baboons on the picnic and rest camps, make sure never to feed them, mind your belongings, roll up your window and close your car’s door. Because these animals will surely try to steal your things.
I got my apple and a bag of crisps stolen from the table and from the car. Luckily, it didn’t pick up my phone or camera which was right next to the bag of crisps!
What to Pack
Thanks to my endless watching of safari documentaries and the memory of Robert Irwin. I imagined myself wearing khaki pants and brown or military green tops. Unfortunately, I didn’t think that my Asics running shoes were too bright for a Bush hike.
When packing clothes, look up the temperature during your visit to pack the proper attire. You have to bring monotone clothes that are in the shade of brown, dark green, and grey. You want to blend in the trees, rocks, and ground, especially if you’re going to join a bush hike.
Here are the things you should pack:
- monotone tops – one short-sleeves, one long-sleeves
- monotone pants – knee length and ankle length
- hiking or walking shoes – monotone
- jumper/pull-over for the winter
- hat – that covers your neck, face, ears, it can be boiling hot in the Park
- bug spray
- good binoculars – my travel companions brought 2 great binoculars (with stability) and 2 pocket-sized binoculars
- camera – if you don’t want to spend on a pair of long lenses and expensive cameras, I recommend you buy a camcorder that has amazing zoom features, I used my Canon VR800 32x zoom (check the penguin videos I took from at least 30 metres away plus zooming in)
- some US Dollars/Euros cash for emergencies
- your international driver’s license
- international bank card/credit card (at least 2 in case the other one won’t work for some reason)
RELATED POST: Smart packing tips
What to Buy at the Park
Here are some things I recommend you buy from the Park:
- checklist for animals you will see
- detailed map of the Park
- snacks for the drive – I recommend biltong (traditional South African munchies)
The entrance fee changes often, remember always to look them up and have enough cash with you or have at least two working bank cards. These prices are from November 2019 until October 2020:
- South African Citizens and Resident (must show ID and proof of residence permit) – Adult: R100/day ($7), Child: R50/day ($3.5)
- SADC Nationals (Southern African Development Community – 16 countries, must show passport – Adult: R200/day ($14), Child: R100/day ($7)
- Standard Conservation/Entrance Fee – Adult: R400/day ($28), Child: R200/day ($14)
- The official site
When taking photos, turn off the Geo-tagging on the settings and do not post in real-time. Many poachers are equipped and up to date with today’s technology.
Many of them are using social media to find out where are the animals. If you take photos of the animals and upload them right away (real-time meaning the moment you snap the picture), it will be a way for the poachers to poach the animals, kill them, and sell them illegally.
While if you upload later on without turning off your Geo-tag, it still contributes to the poachers finding and killing the animals.
Kruger National Park has suggested these steps to help them keep the animals safe, soon, turning off Geo-tags and real-time posting will be part of the strict rules of the park.
THINGS TO DO IN KRUGER NATIONAL PARK
There are many things you can actually do inside Kruger National Park apart from Safari although most of them revolve around wild animals.
Here are some exciting things you can do here:
Day Safari or Game Drive
Game Drive or Day Safari is basically what everyone does in Kruger Park – drive around and find cool animals. You either drive your own car or get on a tour. When I was there, we drove for 5-8 hours a day. I’m not sure why it’s called game drive since you are not allowed to hurt or hunt animals.
We would stop in some picnic areas, rest camps, hideouts, and lookout spots, so we didn’t spend the entire 8 hours in the car. I saw many tour trucks driving around the Park.
So, if you decided not to drive, it’s not a problem at all. To be honest, we found the animals that are hard to spot by looking out where the tour trucks have stopped because their drivers or tour guides know where to look better than self-driving visitors.
You can do a full-day Game Drive if you have a limited time but at the same time, you can maximise your time in Kruger Park.
I did a night Safari one time. We hopped on one of those trucks that can fit up to 12 people. The only way to do this is if you are staying inside the rest camp since the camps are the only authorised people to conduct this tour.
If you want to do this tour, make sure to sign up as soon as you arrive in the Park since only 1-2 trucks are leaving for this tour daily (24 seats available every day). It’s often fully booked.
We left the camp around 16.30 (4.30 pm), and the tour guide drove us around where we spot a few giraffes, elephants, and a lion in the middle of the road cooling off.
We got back to the camp around 18.30 (6.30 pm) just in time for the curfew.
This is one of my favourite things to do in Kruger National Park. There is a very limited spots to do this tour, so, remember to book your seat as soon as possible.
Bush Walk goes every early morning and afternoon. There wasn’t availability for a few days for the morning one, so we booked the afternoon, which was still awesome.
What happened was, that we get on the truck with one driver and two tour guides. After around a 15-20 minute drive, we got off the truck. The tour guide explained the safety instruction.
The main goal of this tour is to spot wild animals up close (at a safe distance). We stopped a few times, and the tour guide explained to us the different behaviour of the animals and great facts about the Park.
I liked this tour a lot because it felt liberating to be walking in the middle of a massive field knowing there are wild animals around us, and the only protection we had was our trained tour guides.
We didn’t see any animals while on the hike but we saw a lone Elephant. We stopped to take a photo of such a beautiful creature with a sunset backdrop.
We learnt a lot and had a great afternoon walk with such a beautiful sunset.
If you are self-driving, remember to pick up a good map from the grocery stores in the Park. Make sure to compare the maps since there are many options to choose from. The map should show not just the routes but also picnic spots, lookout spots, hideouts, and rest camps.
In most picnic spots, there will be tables where you can enjoy your packed meals and snacks plus most of them have great lookout spots.
There will also be one staff who can assist you in setting up for barbecue and kitchen equipment which you can rent for a fee. In these picnic spots, there will be comfortable rooms to use.
REMEMBER: Expect baboons and monkeys around these picnic spots, which are most likely going to steal your food. So, keep an eye on and close your car’s door and windows – they are very sneaky!
Visit the Rest Camps
There are more than 10 rest camps around Kruger Park. We visited 3 of them, which was pretty cool. Some of the rest camps are very new with such excellent facilities, and no rest camp is the same as the other. Most of these rest camps have great lookout spots too.
A trip is not complete without souvenir shopping – at least for the majority of tourists.
Personally, I’m not a souvenir shopper, but I don’t know when I’ll be back in Kruger Park again. I’ve been to Europe many times, and I know I’ll be back again and again, so no need to buy too many souvenirs, plus I don’t have luggage space for them.
Kruger Park was an exception. First, I have nieces and nephews who are so excited for me about this trip because they love animals so much. I promised them I’ll take lots of videos and photos for them.
Apart from that, I hit up the shops and bought a few cute fridge magnets with colourful animation, a key chain, and postcards. The shops can be found in every rest camp and offer massive options for souvenir collectors.
From fridge magnets, t-shirts, coffee mugs, postcards, paintings, stuff toys, and even cool maps – they have it all. What I bought mostly was biltong, a very South African snack and also bought some back to the Philippines.
Enjoy the Swimming Pool
Yes, these rest camps are not shabby! They have swimming pools or at least at the two camps I stayed at which are Satara and Skukuza.
Before I came to Kruger National Park, I had no idea what the rest camps would look like. I was really impressed by how nice, clean, and well-equipped they are. It’s almost like a resort minus all the fancy shenanigans – regardless, it has everything to make your trip very comfortable.
This is not inside Kruger Park, however, Hazyview is a place before entering or exiting Kruger Park since it’s on one of the main roads.
Now that we have talked about things to know before visiting Kruger National Park and things to do there, I hope I gave a useful thing or two for your upcoming trip. I really hope that you found this article on things to know before visiting Kruger National Park helpful.
I tried to cover as much as possible, based on my own experience. If you think I missed something that you wish to add here or you have more updated information or have questions, feel free to let me know in the comment section below.